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Keys Drenched but Miami Is Spared Brunt of Storm : Weak Hurricane Causes Little Damage

October 13, 1987|BARRY BEARAK and LORNA NONES | Times Staff Writers

MIAMI — Hurricane Floyd, a faint-hearted pug as heavyweight storms go, stomped eastward across the Florida Keys on Monday, then sideswiped the mainland just south of Miami.

At its swiftest, Floyd packed sustained winds of 80 m.p.h., slightly more than official hurricane strength. No deaths were reported in its wake. Damage was minor. By 9 p.m., it was lingering in the Atlantic, robbed of much of its punch, drifting northeast toward Grand Bahama Island.

Floyd was the third big blow of a relatively calm hurricane season--and the first to smack the United States.

Nerve-racking as it was, with squalls that drenched Florida as far north as Tampa, the hurricane mercifully dodged away from heavily populated Miami.

"You don't want to say we were lucky, but certainly this could have been a lot worse," said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables.

Florida's largest metropolitan area has not taken the brunt of a hurricane since 1965. Since then, its population has increased by 800,000 to 1.7 million and its beachfront has filled with high-rises untested by the severest of weather.

Floyd had begun Thursday as a tropical depression off the coast of Nicaragua. It gathered strength over the Caribbean. Sunday night, it slapped the western edge of Cuba, forcing more than 100,000 to flee their homes.

The storm then turned fickle in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening residents of both Florida coasts before making a decisive pivot to the east.

At noon Monday, it hit Key West. Power lines snapped. Surging waves leaped cement walls and soaked the roads.

"My neighbor had a skylight that ended up in my pool," said Marty Oostema, co-owner of the Oasis Guesthouse.

At Sloppy Joe's, a popular bar on the main strip, 70 people partied by candlelight. "There's really nothing to worry about," said John Klausing, the general manager. "We have only three windows and we bolted the doors with two-by-fours."

Floyd then hugged the Overseas Highway that strings the keys together. Shopkeepers boarded up windows, then closed. No one was evacuated, though residents of mobile homes were asked to seek safety in public shelters.

After dark, the storm brushed across the southern tip of Everglades National Park, where all recreational grounds had been closed since Sunday night.

Park ranger Sue Haley said flooding would likely cause little damage because this is the wet season anyway and little nesting is going on.

"These aren't very strong winds so mangroves won't be uprooted," she said.

In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, officials decided against evacuating beachfront buildings when it became apparent that Floyd's eye would never directly stare their way.

Still, buffeting winds crippled many areas. Dozens of trees jack-knifed. Hundreds of homes lost electricity. Schools were closed.

Most airlines canceled flights at Miami International Airport, stranding thousands of vacationers. The military transferred about 100 planes from Homestead Air Force Base to safer facilities.

At least two tornadoes were reported, one in southern Dade County, the other in Key Largo, where winds knocked over several trailers and mobile homes.

Off Miami Beach, a freighter spilled some of its cargo in rough seas. Crates of TV sets and stereo equipment floated to shore, where dozens of people carted off the free goods before police arrived.

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